By Mark M. Lowenthal
« Intelligence officers love to explain their role in the policy process as « telling truth to power ». They wrap themselves in this phrase: it makes them feel noble. You can see similar sentiment when you walk into the original CIA headquarters, in marble on the wall on the left: « And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free » – John VIII:32.
It is a lovely sentioment. It is also wrong and it is dangerous.
The original phrase, « speaking truth to power », is credited to Bayard Rustin, the civil rights leader, who wrote in 1942 that this was the role of a religious role. Rustin was a Quaker. In 1955, « Speak Truth to Power » was the title of a Quaker pamphlet advocating nonviolence. Indeed, this phrase has long been a clario call for those pursuing nonviolent means of protesting or changing government policies.
It is not clear how or when this phrase came to be adopted by intelligence professionals, but it is somewhat ironic. Intelligence is not necessarily wiolent – although operations can be – but intelligence is certainly and instrument of state power. »